As the oldest in a family of six children, and one of only two girls, I am the designated event coordinator. That means sending out annual emails to arrange the traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and the special family days such as our parents’ birthdays and anniversary.
This is a big year in the Simone family. Mom turns 75 and dad hits 85, though neither is very thrilled about their respective milestones.
The email went out at the end of February and, to my surprise, by March 3, I had heard from each of my siblings. Three of us will be attending mom’s birthday dinner and four will be awaiting the Easter bunny. My brother Ray and I will be at both events. (We are the good children.) I write that with a smile. It’s hard not to revert to childhood roles when we converge on the Napa home that my father built 55 years ago.
Very little has changed in the three-bedroom, one-bath house that served a family of eight. When I went away to college, my roommates (only children in multiple-bath households) lamented trudging down the freshman dorm hall to take a shower, but I was thrilled.
Growing up in such a large family with one bathroom forced me to be fast, and it’s a habit I haven’t broken. My husband is amazed at how quickly I go from alarm clock to out-the-door ready. There was no dawdling in the Simone house because a line was forming.
But I digress.
Sometimes my holiday emails are met with silence and it takes some gentle prodding to get a response. I remember the year I wanted to put together a book for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and asked each of my siblings to write something. Nada. Though to be fair, one of my sisters-in-law did respond and said that all she could think of to say was “Happy Anniversary” and anyway wasn’t I “the writer in the family.”
Over the years we have tried to arrange joint gifts for my parents with varying degrees of success. But really, the only present they truly want is to have all of their children together. With six kids spread across Northern California and Oregon, it’s not always easy. Someone is usually missing.
And on those very rare occasions when we are all present, it’s almost too much. Because we don’t come alone; we bring our spouses, children and various breeds of pets. Those gatherings work best on summer days when we can go outside. As children we spent a lot of time outside.
Even though I grew up in downtown Napa, orchards and fields surrounded our house. In true Italian fashion, we lived next door to Uncle Tony and Aunt Emily, who in turn lived next door to my grandparents, Genaro and Nicolette Simone. As children, we had the run of the three yards, which included vegetable gardens, grape arbors, a huge barn with its own wine vats and lots of open space to run amid the fruit trees.
My grandparents’ house is no longer in the family and another home has been sandwiched in between that house and my Aunt Emily’s. Our huge yards remain intact, but the orchards that surrounded us are now apartments, condos and homes.
It’s still a shock when I go home and see cars parked along the curb in front of our house. Growing up, there were no curbs or sidewalks. We would spend hours searching through the tall grass across the street for an errant homerun baseball. Now, that ball would surely break someone’s front window.
But though the surrounding area has changed, inside time has stood still. Save for some living room upgrades made for my 1980 wedding day, my dad’s handiwork remains intact. Though if a doctor has his way, that could change. My mother, who used to stand close to 5 feet, is shrinking, and a bad shoulder prevents her from working at the slightly-higher-than-average tile counters that my dad built. The doctor wants them lowered; my dad would rather make my mom a ramp. If history is any indication, the counters will stay unchanged, and mom will work at the kitchen table.
But she won’t be cooking for her birthday next week; we are taking her out to dinner. My mother loves to eat out, but my dad can’t understand why anyone would pay money for food that isn’t nearly as good as what my mother makes. When he was dispensing some words of wisdom before open-heart surgery two years ago, he told my son-in-law not to waste money on taking my daughter out to dinner; he should buy a good tool instead, because a good tool lasts a lifetime.
So do the memories.